A bit more than a month ago I deemed the Globe and Mail‘s proposal for a nation-wide ban on handguns to be “arrant nonsense“ because it would do little to address a serious problem beyond making those criminals who traffic illegal weapons even richer.
Sadly, I must make the same comment about one aspect of the report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The Globe and Mail reports that “Chief Commissioner Marion Buller told the crowd that the Canadian state has deliberately and systemically violated racial, gender, human and Indigenous rights. That was “designed,” Ms. Buller said, “to displace Indigenous peoples from their lands, social structures and governance, to eradicate their existence as nations and communities, families and individuals, [and] is the cause of the disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] people.” … Judge Buller, a person for whom I have the greatest possible respect added that “This is genocide … [and] … Based on the evidence that we heard and read [that] was an inescapable conclusion.”
I am sorry to say that’s hyperbolic nonsense.
I agree that ““the Canadian state has deliberately and systemically violated racial, gender, human and Indigenous rights … [I accept, with reservations, the notion] … That was “designed to displace Indigenous peoples from their lands, social structures and governance, to eradicate their existence as nations and communities … [and I agree that it contributed to] … the disappearances, murders and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and [two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual] people.”” I do not accept that “”the Canadian state has deliberately and systemically [implemented policies and programmes] designed to eradicate … families and individuals.”” I accept that successive governments wanted to “eradicate” the indigenous “nations and communities,” in order to make way for the unrestricted exploitation of native lands for the benefit of the larger, settled (or settler, if you prefer) society, but I do not believe that any fair reading of Canadian history supports the notion that anyone, not Sir John A MacDonald, not Alexander Mackenzie, who passed the first Indian Act in 1876, and certainly not Stephen Harper of Justin Trudeau ever intended “to eradicate … families and individuals.” They certainly, as the Canadian Encyclopedia says (link above), hoped that “natives should be assimilated first by treaties, and then through property ownership and enfranchisement. Eventually, it was thought, the result would be the end of “Indian status.”” They may have been greedy, their policies may have been insensitive, they may have been racist, although I think not, in most cases, and their policies have, without a doubt, contributed to a culture of despair in too many First Nations communities. I believe that many 19th and 20th century Canadians saw indigenous people as exactly like us, but disadvantaged by their cultures (there were (are) more than one) and lack of education and technology. But what they did, even at the worst, does not rise to anywhere near the status that some First Nations activists want to ascribe to it: genocide.
This was genocide …
… so was this …
… and there have been others, but nothing even remotely like that ever happened in Canada, nothing since the unplanned, accidental extinction of the Beothuk people has come anywhere near to being an attempt “to eradicate their existence as nations and communities, families and individuals.” If there ever had been such an attempt then the word genocide might be applicable; there wasn’t, so it isn’t.
I guess I can understand why some First Nations activists want that word and why they pressured Prime Minister Trudeau to use it when he accepted a copy of the report and why they cheered, later in the day, in Vancouver, when he said ““Earlier this morning, the national inquiry formally presented their final report, in which they found that the tragic violence that Indigenous women and girls experienced amounts to genocide.”” After all, the Jews had their genocide, the Holocaust, and we all agree that we must never forget that and it is a fact of huge historical significance, so First Nations think they should have a genocide, too, of their own, so that no one will ever be allowed to forget that they suffered, mightily, after the arrival of the much more culturally and technologically advanced European settlers. They were conquered, militarily, colonized, by force, herded on to reservations where they were allowed to languish in poverty and backwardness, and their families were torn apart ~ all that is true; none of it comes even close to being a genocide. Justice Minister David Lametti says, in the article, that ““We’re going to leave the actual use of the term ‘genocide’ to academics and experts … [and] … What we have said today is we have a responsibility to the people … to the survivors, to the families of the women and girls who have gone missing or have been murdered. We have a responsibility for fixing the problem.”“
Judge Buller brought some much needed good common-sense to that problem. She said that “the government’s acknowledgement of a genocide is unimportant … [because] … “We don’t need to hear the word ‘genocide’ come out of the Prime Minister’s mouth … because the families have told us, the survivors have told us, their truths.”” That may be the most important thing. Judge Buller listened, she heard the saddest stories, she shared the tears …
… and she gave voice to all she heard. The term genocide is nonsense; that is not what happened in Canada. What did happen is an ongoing human and legal-political and bureaucratic/law enforcement and procedural horror-story.
I’m sure the report is full of useful recommendations, including, I sincerely hope, recommendations to improve Indigenous/First Nations leadership and the delivery of, above all, education; recommendations that can and should be followed up by the Trudeau regime and by the next government (hopefully one led by Andrew Scheer) too. It, also, sadly, contains some misinformation, which includes trying to make the sad saga of the missing and murdered indigenous women into a genocide, which is something it is not.
It is past time for Canada, all of Canada, to treat fairly with our First Nations, but Erna Paris, a distinguished Canadian historian says, in the Globe and Mail, that “Many of the Inquiry’s hundreds of recommendations regarding the safety of Indigenous women and girls look like useful proposals … [and] … The Canadian government has vowed to move on the file … [but, she says] … “For much of my professional life, I have explored the origins of racism, the retrieval of national historical memory after strategically forgotten crimes against humanity, the role of courtroom justice in bringing accountability to the victims of the worst crimes known to humankind and the importance of simple acknowledgement to the reconciliation process … [and] … In doing so I have learned the importance of factual precision regarding criminal accusations, and in this respect, I believe the commissioners’ otherwise excellent report was marred by the gratuitous charge that Canada has committed, and continues to commit, genocide against its Indigenous populations. Not cultural genocide, a concept that is broadly accepted today with reference to the attempted obliteration of aboriginal culture in the Indian Residential Schools, but all-out genocide – without qualification … [she goes on to say, and I agree, fully that] … In its report the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has conflated the recent murders of women and girls with the entirety of the Indigenous experience in Canada, past and present, then framed its conclusions under the powerful rubric of genocide, for which both past and present federal governments are held directly responsible … [but] … these extrapolations are overly broad. The men who killed Indigenous women were not génocidaires set on destroying a group. They were commonplace domestic criminals – murderers and predators who ought not to have been elevated to fit a paradigm … [and, she adds] … We forget, at our peril, that genocide is a legal term, not a societal term. It is the worst crime in the lexicon of international law, the apex of “crimes against humanity,” the most powerful criminal designation ever codified. Genocide is a crime whose proper referent is the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention) of 1948, and its most important characteristic is intent: “The deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious or national group.” Genocide, as opposed to cultural genocide, is the planned extermination of peoples. It is not, as asserted by the Inquiry, “the sum of the social practices, assumptions, and actions detailed within this report.” Genocide (like all crimes) is an act. To lose sight of this fact is to jeopardize the usefulness of one of the most important tools of international criminal law.” Damn, I wish I wrote that well and clearly. She’s spot on. A potentially great report is marred by a cliché.